Southwest Key hires consultant to vet Arizona operations

By: - January 11, 2019 2:48 pm

A Southwest Key facility in Glendale. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Southwest Key has hired health care management consultant Robert Hess III to comply with one of the terms of the settlement agreement between the migrant youth shelter operator and the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The settlement, reached in October after ADHS threatened to revoke all of Southwest Key’s licences, tasks Hess with evaluating how effective the organization’s “quality management systems” are in addressing health and safety concerns at its 11 Arizona sites.

Southwest Key contracts with the federal government to house migrant children who came to the country unaccompanied or were separated from their parent. Concerns with the Southwest Key’s operations have been ongoing since it was in the national spotlight this summer.

In Arizona, Southwest Key’s shelters are licensed as behavioral health centers. From July through August, ADHS inspected all facilities and found rampant deficiencies in its fingerprint and background check compliance. Local and national media reports also exposed a record of sexual misconduct allegations at Southwest Key facilities and other incidents, including runaway cases. In September 2018, a former Southwest Key employee, Levian Pacheco, was convicted of abusing seven teenage boys at a facility in Mesa.

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said this week his agency failed when investigating child abuse reports involving three minors at a Southwest Key shelter in Youngtown.  

Under the settlement terms, ADHS had to approve the consultant before Southwest Key employed them.

Southwest Key proposed Hess to the state in an in-person meeting on Dec. 7, said ADHS spokeswoman Melissa Blasius-Nuanez. Colby Bower, ADHS assistant director, approved the consultant that afternoon, according to department records obtained by the Arizona Mirror through a public records request.

“ADHS approved Southwest Key’s choice of consultant based on a review of the consultant’s qualifications and experience in healthcare and licensure,” Blasius-Nuanez said in a statement. “ADHS is not a party to the contract between the consultant and Southwest Key and did not review or approve the contract itself.”

Southwest Key spokesman Jeff Eller declined to provide the Mirror with a copy of the company’s contract with Hess.

When reached by phone, Hess declined to comment about the work he’ll do with Southwest Key.

“I am not allowed to talk to you, so I apologize. I need to hang up,” he said.  

Hess is CEO of Phoenix-based Hess III Consulting, LLC, which he registered with the state in 2010, Arizona Corporation Commission records show. He also formed Health Innovation Network LLC in July 2018.

Hess is also CEO of Hess III Consulting, Inc. based in the Washington, D.C. metro area, according to his LinkedIn profile. His experience focuses on “designing, implementing and optimizing health systems” in areas like Medicare, Medicaid, state-run behavioral health and child welfare, according to the LinkedIn profile.

A December 2018 job listing for a chief of staff at Hess III Consulting describes the business as a “one-man-shop” operation that is expanding.

Other terms of the Southwest Key settlement

When the settlement was reached, Southwest Key gave up two of its licences in Arizona: a central Phoenix facility licensed to hold 420 children and a Youngtown facility licensed for 139 minors.

Most notably, the state placed a freeze on accepting new minors until the head of ADHS “is assured that the health and safety of the residents is no longer in immediate danger.”

The freeze is still in place.

The company also paid the state a penalty of $73,000.

The shelter operator has until Jan. 22 to hire on-site evaluators at each of its facilities. This personnel has to be pre-approved by ADHS and will work for least one year and up to two years to ensure Southwest Key is “implementing changes to protect the health and safety of residents.”

Five of the 11 shelters have hired on-site evaluators, Blasius-Nuanez said.

The settlement allows ADHS to make unannounced visits to Southwest Key facilities for two years.

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.